SoundExchange’s new Music Data Exchange (MDX) is a promising idea that gets at a big part of the real problem with mass infringement of songs by digital services. It also gives some hope of actually reducing the “pending and unmatched” (or “black box” in the vernacular) at the source–before the songs are infringed.
Regardless of what the Music Modernization Act’s proposed blanket license and new retroactive safe harbor for infringing services may do, if the song ownership data isn’t available pre-release, it is unlikely that the proposed Music Licensing Collective will result in more efficient payments to songwriters subject to the blanket license.
When I worked at A&M Records, I established a policy of enforcing requirements in producer and artist agreements that writer and publisher information (including splits) be delivered to A&R Administration along with every new recording as part of the larger label copy process. A&R Administration then was able to send the full publisher and song metadata for the recording to the Copyright Department so that there was no need (or much less need) for them to chase down the information on new releases. That’s not only extremely inefficient, it also makes their job exceptionally frustrating and Kafka-esque.
This required putting some sensitive English on the ball, so to speak, about enforcing our contracts with the most important people on the label–the artists and producers. But it was a simple pitch–let’s get this right so that songwriters get paid properly. That resonated.
This policy resulted in A&M having the lowest pending and unmatched in the industry–to the point that on audit some people thought we were hiding something.
On balance, the downside of denying the black box slush fund just didn’t compare to the upside of making sure our songwriters got paid (many of whom also were our artists). While I’m glad that the plan worked for A&M at the time, what’s really needed in an era of massive infringement by digital services is an industry-wide solution that takes away that excuse.
Nobody likes litigation, but it has become a last resort when faced with people who just don’t seem to care and would rather buy themselves a new safe harbor than do the right thing. MDX may offer that opportunity and solution.
Hypebot recently published an interview with SoundExchange’s Jonathan Bender that gives a clear explanation of the goals and functionality of the service. I think it’s a solution that everyone should support.
…[I]t occurred to us that we were addressing a problem after it happened. We said, “Isn’t there a way to address the problem before it happens? Before you get to the point where you have settlements and lawsuits and unhappy writers and publishers?”
That was the core idea of Music Data Exchange – to create a centralized, rational process for labels to request publishing data and for the publishers to respond to those requests on a central site…
In one of my first meetings with one label’s copyright department I asked, “How do you get the publishing data?” They said they generate a report of all their new releases each week, typically hundreds of recordings, hand it to their copyright people, and then they commence to email publishers they know asking “is this your song?”
That’s just one label. Add hundreds of labels and hundreds of publishers to that, and thousands of recordings a week. It’s no surprise that it’s a mess.